Saturday, November 29, 2008


My aim is to reduce the entropy of the world. Having fought to a draw in larger battles to improve my position I am content now to simply backstop the inexorable slide towards chaos.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Reduction of Complexity

For some time I've railed against standard tests and their purpose. Having a daughter with ADD (or something - I think that's a simplification too,) I learned that human intelligence is an incredibly complex subject. We test people in ways convenient for the test maker. That leads me to suspicion that the test taker may be given short shrift.

This morning I coined a phrase I thought worthy of recording here.

"Tests attempt to digest complexity for consumption by the simple."

Saturday, August 09, 2008

A horribly broken FCC SLD

I've attempted to help a poor inner-city Catholic school for several years. This is the grade school where my deceased father-in-law went. My contributions related to IT services. Many times my company billed for those services. Many times we didn't. But my personal contribution was applying for subsidies offered by the FCC's Universal Service Fund for Schools and Libraries.

Never has there been a labyrinthine government program that abused its intended beneficiaries the way this program abuses poor schools. I have pounds of paperwork in files I'd rather shred - but hold onto out of a sick desire to recall just how bad this program is.

In fairness, I'm sure my disregard for this program is naive. Most government programs are probably worse. FEMA comes to mind in the Hurricane Katrina debacle. But most abused must be welfare clients. Fortunately, I have dodged becoming a client of those services so far.

After years of dealing with a certification, application, payment and validation system inspired by the Marquee de Sade, I finally decided I had had enough and opted out. My brief note of regret to be leaving the program generated an automated reply that I couldn't be released until I asked in the right way!

So I called up the always polite support persons that handle this sort of thing, was directed to the right form, completed it (or so I thought) properly, and faxed it over. I was greeted this week with a resignation rejection letter!! They weren't going to allow me to leave their program until I submitted additional language that they required me to include, verbatim, in my request to leave:

We have received your request to revise your Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN). We are unable to process your application for the following reason(s):
  • Certification Letter is incorrect (Certification Statement is missing). This paragraph must appear exactly word for word on the certification letter. Please see Form 498 Instructions, Page 20, Attachment B, for the exact format and precise wording required for this document.
In another follow-up call I challenged the always polite staff at the FCC to the following simple tasks:

1. Give your stupid paperwork to your mother. See if she can figure it out. Most principals at small schools are dedicated women who have way to much to do. They are of above average intelligence, but this program is inscrutable! to even the most accomplished of government paperwork pushing savants. If your mother can't do it neither can they.

2. Do a quick survey: find 10 local schools that have an obvious need for the subsidies promised by this program. Look up in your database if they are participating. I predict that most won't be. Of those that are, examine what they are paying for voice and data services. I predict it will be 30% to 50% higher than normal. Why? Because the vendors who have to wade through your program's maze of requirements, filings, certifications and rules are doing what they can to compensate themselves for the agony they must endure to provide services under this system.

My suggestion to the FCC: Write checks to the poorest of poor schools without any application process or hoop-jumping by their beleaguered administration. Give them $50 for each phone line and $200 for Internet service. OK, make them send you a copy of one of their phone bills. (Don't even bother with the bill for the Internet.)

I don't think too many Catholic schools are going to rip you off for the $400/mo you send them to rescue poor kids from the despairing circumstances most of them live in.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Try Free Software for Free

I've been in the computer business for over 30 years. Software was included free with hardware in the early days . . . but a PC that didn't have the processing power of a video game was $4000. Today PCs are practically free and software, especially from Microsoft, is getting more expensive. In fact, you can easily buy a PC that is suitable for your business for less than $400, but the Microsoft Office software that most businesses want is at least $450.

Over the past ten years a growing number of programmers have been creating and distributing free software that anyone can use for free. Before you accuse me of being redundant in the use of the word: free, allow me to explain what free means.

In our language, the word free can mean two things: free as in free beer and free as in freedom. The free software movement aims to do both. For them the freedom part is the most important. They give away their software but also give away the programming 'secrets' that allow anyone who cares to see how they did what they did. More importantly, anyone who wants to can work on the program to make it better. This has turned out to be a very successful way to get lots of people to work on programs that just keep getting better and better and remain free as in free beer.

Big companies have joined the movement: IBM, Google, Yahoo and lots of others – including my company. We make a small business file server using free software.

You can try free software for free too. Many people know about Firefox: the Internet browser that is faster and more secure than Microsoft's Internet Explorer. You can download it for free from I recommend instead of Microsoft's Office if you want a Microsoft compatible word processor and spreadsheet program and save $450. (I'd be happy to send you a CD filled with free software if you send me your mailing address:

There are thousands of free software programs. You won't see them on the shelves of Office Depot or Best Buy because no one is making money selling them. But with a little searching, you can save a lot of money and gain a little freedom too.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Top 10 Reasons why Books are Better than TV

  1. Books are smaller and cheaper.
  2. Books let you skip around.
  3. There are millions and millions of people writing things compared to only a few thousand people video-taping things. (And people have been writing things for a lot longer.)
  4. Books wait for you.
  5. You can read just about anywhere you can see or hear.
  6. Books let you repeat what you didn’t get the first time.
  7. Books are ‘incomplete’ . . . you have to finish the story with your imagination.
  8. You can look up what’s in a book on the Internet.
  9. You can write one yourself.
  10. Smarter People Read